Lessons in Living: Chapter 1 Hunter & PreySeries:
Tenzou & Sai and other men in my Monoshizukanohi 'verseWord Count:
THIS chapter: Language, implied violence. Spoilers:
A year ago, Tenzou lost the only man he ever loved, and the only man he believes he ever will love. So when an artistic prodigy many years Tenzou's junior enters his life with determined demands for love, play, and safe harbor, Tenzou is forced to face his past, remember his promises, and challenge his presumption that forever after is final.
The city night air was crisp on Asashi Tenzou's face, and it carried the scent of frying noodles and the first inklings of freezing rain. He waded through a sea of well-bundled humanity on the sidewalks snaking through Chinatown, ducking banners hanging outside shops and dodging market vendors trying to hock the last of their wares before closing down their carts. This was the only district in Monoshizukanohi where Tenzou could find a particular brand of incense he burned to meditate and a packet of Chinese herbs he liked to brew for tea. It was also the only place left that didn't keep a memory on every corner and down every alleyway, waiting to accost Tenzou and murder his heart all over again with a smile, a laugh… a last, wheezing, machine-driven breath.
Pain fluttered, old and weakened, in Tenzou's guts, and he cursed to himself. Now was not the time to be swayed by the siren song of ghosts. Later, Tenzou could indulge himself; later he could barricade himself in his woodworking shop in the lavish home built for two and occupied by one, and he could carve molding until there was nothing left but sore fingers, aching shoulders, and exhaustion.
The time to forget was later. Now was the time for action, for quicker steps away from witnesses and possible collateral damage. Tenzou took a fast right onto a side street, nominally taking a shortcut to the subway station three blocks east of his current position. A man in a dirty apron swept a loading dock. Lights flickered around a window filled with Mandarin neon. Cars and motorcycles kicked up dirty, icy spray ahead and behind Tenzou, tires rolling across puddles created by clogged drains. Someone yelled for a taxi. The group of boys ten yards in front of him chattered and cackled in a muddied mess of Chinese dialect and English, and he listened with senses sharpened by the military and marital arts.
There. Footfalls. Light and speedy and so amateur in their tailing it made Tenzou want to weep for the younger generation of stealth. The poor excuse for a stalker had been following Tenzou since Tenzou trotted up the steps of the subway, heading toward his errands. At first, Tenzou had told himself he was being paranoid. Spending too much time around his friend, Kakashi, who was a king of conspiracy for damned good reasons. Nobody could work as closely as Kakashi did to the Prime Minister's son and not become a little schizophrenic around the edges. The Hyuuga tended to inspire and encourage nervousness in the masses. It was part of the pretty man's… charm.
Tenzou kept telling Kakashi to spend more time bartending and managing his bar, Glow, and less time being the information man that kept the Hyuuga informed and their vigilante projects alive. Or, hell, Kakashi would even be far better suited to spend more time with his lover, Iruka, either in their gorgeous townhouse that Tenzou still
envied or on the floors of the BDSM club, Break, that Tenzou, Kakashi, Neji, and the Uzumaki kid owned. Break wasn't exactly mainstream, catering to the elite's need for bondage and negotiated brutality, but it was a damned sight healthier than risking life and neck for whatever bug Neji had up that delicately-defined, leather-clad ass.
Tenzou took a hard left, slowing down to make sure the idiot behind him had enough of a lead to continue the tail. He could actually hear Kakashi, now, laughter infectious and charming as Kakashi cocked a head of prematurely gray hair and politely pointed out that if working for the Hyuuga was so distasteful, why, then, did Tenzou agree not only to help build Break and invest in it, but also to help out with the moonlighting on a somewhat regular, if sporadic, basis?
To which Tenzou would sling back another shot of tequila and tell Kakashi to, one, fuck off, and two, remember that Tenzou had nothing left in life to lose. Kakashi had everything: the bar, Break and the dance club, Bliss, friends… and a man who loved Kakashi so much it made breathing difficult when around the pair of them.
And Tenzou played out Kakashi's imagined returned volley: that the reason he, Neji, Naruto, and others well-paid to keep secrets safe and illusions safer trolled the darker parts of this city was to eliminate threats endangering their loves and livelihoods. It was to stop the kind of dangerous people that the police often couldn't touch or wouldn't, and to turn the tides against crime and intrigue. It was, in effect, the same job that both Kakashi and Tenzou used to do for the military but were no longer allowed to perform due to injury and honorable discharge.
Tenzou never had a good comeback to that logic, though Tenzou did often wonder to what Kakashi's true allegiances were: Neji, the city, and the safety of loved ones or just the ability to give long-winded lectures and hear himself speak. After half a bottle of 1800 opened in the wee hours of the morning when Glow was closed, Tenzou usually suspected the latter.
With an abrupt step to the left, Tenzou knocked into a man heading in the opposite direction. "The hell?" the stranger exclaimed, predictably, while stumbling from the blow.
"Crap, sorry!" Tenzou said with faked enthusiastic chagrin. He spun, hands out to help the man regain balance.
"Are you blind?" the stranger groused, giving Tenzou a nasty look threaded with fear, and Tenzou smiled his best peaceful smile, knowing the sentiment didn't come close to touching his dark eyes.
"So sorry," Tenzou repeated, and he scanned and got a first clear look at his incompetent follower. Shorter than Tenzou's five-foot-ten inches, slimmer than Tenzou's one-eighty-five of hard muscle wrought from the gym and dojo training, and wearing boots, tight jeans, long coat, and a hat obscuring hair color. Kid's chin was tilted down to save face, hands shoved in pockets, and Tenzou completed his pivot and let the chase resume. The kid, man, woman, whatever would be hard pressed to take Tenzou down in a fair physical match, but any idiot could fire a gun. Tenzou carried his .44 in a holster on one hip, the Conceal and Carry a by-product of a lifelong love affair with weaponry and listening to Kakashi's paranoid rants, but he wasn't about to pull it on some punk without sufficient need.
So, Tenzou would just have to inspire that kind of situation. He could probably lose the guy by grabbing a car or by heading for the train station, but he didn't want to chance it. The person had stayed on Tenzou's heels through two stops and a dozen half-hearted attempts to shake the tail. It had already occurred to Tenzou that his new little friend might not be completely inept and may be trying for obvious. If that was the case, then Tenzou was going to force the guy's hand. Tenzou didn't need any more misery following him home, and besides, it'd been years since Tenzou had gotten shot. Even a painful or deadly distraction still served a purpose.
Tenzou started watching for openings. He knew this street well, and it was close enough to the subway station that there was a good mix of tourists searching for dinner and entertainment that his height and build didn't stand out. Every second human wore a black jacket similar to Tenzou's, and he started aligning himself with brunet men on cell phones and carrying briefcases or packages. He crossed the street at a trot, his slender friend following, and he blessed the sameness of the city, the monotonous monochrome. For six blocks they walked, passing the underground's entrance and continuing toward a series of apartment complexes floating above stores advertising acupuncture, XXX Videos, and the latest in cuticle treatments. Tenzou mapped entrances in his peripheral vision, and when a man roughly Tenzou's size took a turn to the left into a corridor, Tenzou elongated his stride and did the same.
The street was narrower, the sidewalk an afterthought, and a roundabout dead-ended in front of a string of apartments. The man Tenzou trailed kept going, presumably toward a late supper and the TV, and Tenzou pressed himself into an alcove made by two stone steps and the locked door of an abandoned building. He waited, heart thudding, but breathing slow and even. He counted, one-one-thousand, two, and heard a boot scuff the cracked concrete just before Tenzou's potential assailant appeared. Tenzou leapt out of the shadows, down the stairs, and grabbed a handful of coat covering a thin arm.
In a startling maneuver, the stranger dipped low, swinging around a lean leg without so much as a gasp or a grunt of exertion. Tenzou's body narrowly avoided the contact on autopilot, jumping and swiveling to follow the flow of the smaller man. Tenzou countered a palm meant to deflect, and stooped to grab lapels. Tenzou used his legs for leverage, hoisting the weight of his follower and pitching it into the nearby brick wall. A whoosh of wind, and Tenzou triumphed. The guy couldn't block momentum, proving yet again that size did, indeed, matter, and Tenzou landed against the breathless body, forearm an iron bar across a heaving chest. A soft sound of pain, and Tenzou stifled disappointment when his sparring partner quit fighting. Nobody evidently paid them any attention, because the halt in the violence didn't inspire warning cries, gasps, or even curiosity. God bless the city.
Tenzou ripped off the hat to get a look at the person who'd certainly made the last two hours more interesting, and glared in dumbfounded shock. "You!" Tenzou accused.
Familiar slanted eyes crinkled at the corners, and a cupid's bow mouth tilted in a shaky smile that seemed almost mocking. "Hi," said the boy Tenzou had met two nights ago, whom Tenzou would surely not have remembered except the guy was… well. The word 'beautiful' came to mind. Also: 'young' and 'strange'.
following me?" Tenzou asked.
"Yes," said the kid.
"Why?" Tenzou inquired, easing his crushing press, but only slightly. Recognition did not equate to trust, and for the life
of Tenzou, he could not remember the boy's name.
"It was logical?" the kid replied, making it a question.
"To what end?" Tenzou asked, trying not to shout. "And how did you know where I'd be?" Images flew in fast forward in Tenzou's mind: suits, dresses, champagne, gleaming trays of finger foods, a replay of the entire social affair. He needed to get to the part where he'd stepped away from this guy, said thank you, started to leave…
"I made inquiries."
Tenzou narrowed his eyes. "Of whom? Inquiries of whom?"
The kid searched Tenzou's face, expression completely lacking in fear or concern or apology. "The lively man." A small, fragile hand raised and gestured in the vicinity of the kid's head. "Odd eyes. Pretty. Blue and brown."
"Kakashi," Tenzou snarled. "I'll kill him."
"Please don't? He was nice."
"He was not
nice. He was fucking--" Tenzou cut himself off, blew a sigh.
"What?" Tenzou asked, confused.
"I believe that's who your friend Kakashi was, and possibly is, fucking," the kid said, helpfully.
Tenzou felt the twinges of pain tickling his temples, but he pushed aside the warnings of migraine and tried to focus. "Are you… is that supposed to be funny?" He'd been leaving, the kid snagged his jacket, wanted Tenzou to wait…
"How do you know…" Tenzou stopped, letting the tangential argument go for now. He returned to the sound of elevator music, the warm glow of spotlights. Tenzou had turned when he felt the hand on his elbow, he'd been curious and tired, and someone else called out a name. The kid responded, jerking attention elsewhere, and Tenzou recalled sleek jawline in profile, aristocratic nose, and though the boy's features had barely changed under the canned halogen lighting, Tenzou thought the kid had been irked. The kid… who had answered to…
And the name landed in a lightning bolt of recovered memory. "Danzou. Answer me. Why were you tailing me?"
The kid flinched, dropped Tenzou's gaze. "I'm not… that's not my name."
"Then what is?"
The boy licked his lips, touched Tenzou's hand and, with the speed of a rattlesnake, applied insanely precise pressure that made Tenzou have to let go or get hurt. Tenzou noted how the kid didn't use force, exactly; it was more like a casual warning. Tenzou released him, but didn't retreat.
"I'm Sai," the kid answered, looking up at Tenzou as though expecting… something. Anger? Disappointment? Tenzou had no idea, but the weight of anticipation hung heavy between them. A chilly mist began to fall, making a fog, and Tenzou squared his shoulders.
"All right, then, Sai," Tenzou said, resisting the dark depths of Sai's level stare. "Perhaps you'd better explain."~*~